What Does it Mean to be Born Again?

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9 minutes

The term “born again” is something that I didn’t even know had happened to me when I found Jesus. I had been searching for something for a long time. I had joined a church because I wanted to know more about God. I didn’t even know what had happened to me until I shared my dream with my youth group. They told me to read John 3:1–21 and it confused the tar out of me! But, I was only 17 at the time and much of the Bible didn’t make sense to me. I only knew something in my life had changed. I was a like a caterpillar who became a butterfly overnight. My life changed – just like that!

So, let’s look at John 3:1-21 together. What does it mean to be born again?

Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council (the Sanhedrin), came to Jesus at night. He didn’t approach him during the day when crowds of people surrounded him. He went at night, when people were sleeping, and when it would be unlikely that anyone else on the council would know what he was doing.

This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”

John 3:2, NKJV

And how does Jesus respond? He changes the topic.

Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

John 3:3, NKJV

He doesn’t talk about the signs Nicodemus mentioned. He stays clear of all that. Instead, he tells Nicodemus that “unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus rightly responds with incredulity. Basically, in modern terms, Nick says something like, “What the heck is that supposed to mean? How can I be born again when I’m old? What are you talking about?”

The Significance of Water & Spirit

Nicodemus accepts that Jesus is a Rabbi (teacher) from God who does miracles, but Jesus is not impressed with his belief. After all, anyone who’s seen him in action knows that Jesus is more than “just a teacher.” There is something else going on here that requires more than belief in miracles.

Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit”

John 3:5-6, NKJV

In other words, do you want to get into heaven? Doing good works won’t get you there. Believing in miracles won’t either. Performing religious duties in the temple, church, synagogue, mosque, etc. won’t get you there. Praying frequently won’t do it either. Memorizing Scriptures or having daily Bible studies? Nope. All those things are done in the flesh. True, they are works done with good intentions, but they will not get you into heaven. Jesus says you also need to be born of the Spirit.

“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

John 3:8, NKJV

Nicodemus is, at this point, scratching his head. He doesn’t understand what Jesus is getting at, and Jesus is floored that Nicodemus, a teacher of Israel who is supposed to know these things, doesn’t understand.

“Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?”

John 3:10-12, NKJV

Jesus is making a distinction between two very different groups of people. One group can’t see the truth, even if it is staring them right in the face. They see the miracles, but still, there is doubt. Or they refuse to believe that Jesus is the only way to be saved. Like many today, Jesus is a stumbling block for them.

Have You Been Born of the Spirit?

The other group, however, seems to be more attuned to the spiritual life. They readily accept Jesus, not just because of his miracles but also because of his teachings. They hear his call to repent and believe in him. There is a reason Jesus spoke in parables most of the time. When his disciples asked him about it, he said this:

He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.”

Matthew 13:11-13, NKJV

In other words, those born of the spirit who seek God will be given more. They will hear and understand deeper things. They will have life with Christ. They will have an abundance. 

Jesus always had large crowds following Him, and speaking in parables was a kind of litmus test to see who was listening and taking what He said to heart. A lot of those who followed Him just wanted something from Him—a healing or miracle of some kind. They wanted something superficial that didn’t involve repentance (changing their ways) or committing themselves to be a disciple and follow Him.

Others didn’t want to believe at all, preferring to trust in themselves or their many gods instead of just one. So, quite simply, Jesus spoke in parables so those who weren’t listening or seeking wouldn’t get it. They were not born of the Spirit, and this is what was lacking in Nicodemus. His belief in Jesus was centred around Jesus’ miracles, not on something more eternal.

So Jesus tells him what he needs to know to be saved, and it is the main reason Jesus came and one of the most famous verses in the Bible.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life”

John 3:16, NKJV

It all comes down to faith. When Jesus told Nicodemus that “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God,” He was telling him that the Spirit comes through belief in Him. And it is this Holy Spirit that enables those who believe in Jesus to understand heavenly things. It’s not about miracles, healings, or what Jesus can do for you. It is about belief in Him.

And that belief, that faith in Him, comes with a promise—that we will not perish but have everlasting life. Oh, yes, our bodies will die, but our spirits, the essence of who we are, will live on forever with Jesus Christ.

For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”

John 3:17, NKJV

Many people believe in something called universalism. It is the belief that a good and loving God would not condemn anyone to hell. They think because of the verse above that everyone is saved. After all, doesn’t the verse say that Jesus came to save the world—not just a select few—but the entire world? It does, but they are missing something crucial. It involves something else Jesus said, and it’s the stumbling block that keeps so many from Jesus today. Belief in Christ involves repentance.

“I tell you, no; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:5, NKJV).

From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17, NKJV).

“He who believes in Him is not condemned, but he who does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God” (John 3:18-21, NKJV).

Do you believe Jesus is the Son of God? Then you are not condemned. But if you don’t believe, you are condemned already. And what are those who don’t believe in Jesus condemned to? Darkness. Eternal separation from God. Those who don’t believe in Christ love darkness rather than light because, as the Scriptures state, “their deeds are evil.” But those born of the Spirit (John 3:8) come to the light. They practice and live the truth so that their deeds may glorify God.

So yes, there are two groups of people: those who believe and repent, and those who don’t. The saved versus the unsaved. But here’s the kicker: we don’t know where the wind will blow, and it is the same with the Spirit. We don’t know who will come out of the darkness and into the light.

Jesus says, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

John 3:8, NKJV

This is why we pray for those who don’t understand or refuse to accept that Jesus is Lord. We pray God will reveal Himself to them. We pray the wind will blow in their direction, and they will change their thinking (repent) and know what it means to be born of the Spirit.

So, yes, God loves the world, and Jesus did die for everyone, but not everyone will repent and be saved. Universalists want you to believe that no one will go to hell because God loves us so much. So you can keep on living however you want because, as they insist, God will forgive you. But that is not what Jesus preached. Jesus preached repentance and faith in Him. You cannot have one without the other.

He who believes in the Son has everlasting life, and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

John 3:36, NKJV

That’s a very hard truth for some to digest.

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